Nova Scotia - Springhill Mine

Springhill Mine

In the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia
Down in the dark of the Cumberland Mine
There's blood on the coal and the miners lie
In roads that never saw sun nor sky.

As recent events in West Virginia (2006), China (2010), Chile (2010), and Colombia (2011) demonstrated, mining disasters are a constant danger that have not been solved by advancing technology. The famous Springhill incident was actually two incidents in close range. The first, in 1956, was a coal dust fire brought about by derailed runaway train cars slamming into a power line. With the cars being full of coal dust that was spread around the mine during the incident, the resultant spark created a tremndous explosion that destroyed the surface buildings, killed 39 miners, and trapped 88 others for a time. But that was nothing compared to the 1958 bump. A bump occurs when the ground settles due to having removed too large an amount of the support (i.e. coal) and not leaving enough pillars. This can be caused by the greed of extracting all the available coal, or poor engineering, or even by unknown shifts in the Earth that can't be faulted to the mine construction in any way. Some bumps are minor, and one occured around 7 PM on October 23, 1958. That's just a shift in the ground that feels like a quick earthquake. When there's a large bump, the weight of the surrounding rocks compresses tunnels in all directions, and if there's not enough support, the tunnel instantly collapses. There's no possibility of surviving inside the bump, and anyone deeper than the bump becomes trapped with no clear path out. An hour after the small bump, there was a large one. 74 miners died and 100 were trapped for as long as eight days as deep as 4,000 feet at a tunnel length of over two miles. What happened in 1958 ended the mine for good, destroying the backbone of the town's economy. Tourism can only barely compensate for what was lost, but it preserves an important piece of history that recent events show is still valuable knowledge.

Rail cars from the mine were preserved in front to greet visitors.

Vests and equipment worn by the miners. The restored changing/shower hut included a range of historical items such as emergency kits, breathing apparati, and lanterns from the 19th century through the 1950s.

Down into the mine at a 30 degree angle. Natural light quickly disappears underground, and these lanterns were never here. Also, the ceilings have been significantly raised to nearly 6 feet and the pathways have been widened to facilitate touring. In real mining, the shafts would be barely larger than a mine car (see photos above) and the miners would sit inside the cars in pitch blackness for as long as the trip took up or down. A 30 degree grade is considerable for a rail engine, which adds to the danger of working among fine dust particles (causing either cancer or explosions) in darkness (only a helmet light) thousands of feet from the rest of the world if anything goes wrong, with limited emergency rations or air. Even a water leak can be catastrophic, and there could also be poisonous but undetectable (especially if the detectors aren't working - and how would you know) gas seeping through any tunnel.

The blackness beyond the last night is all you'd see if you were a miner. The side tunnel with the emergecny exit was a legitimate side tunnel, used for cross access and ventilation between different shafts. Very useful in case of emergency, but also just to keep airflow stable.

Old rail ties were picked up from the mine floor and used to shore up the ceiling for museum purposes. No such reinforcement in an actual mine, to give you an idea of the conditions the brave workers endure every day to power your comfortable life. This is not a job for the weak of heart, mind, or body. That black door is the way in or out of the mine. During the tour, the lights are suddenly shut off. Apparently, after about 30 seconds in complete darkness - and this is darker than anything you have ever experienced - you begin to lose track of up or down. That's right, not even gravity helps you find yourself, that's how disoriented your brain gets by not being able to see when your eyes are open. After about 30 minutes, you could go permanently insane.

The tour stops at a certain point in the mine, and just below that level the water has seeped back into the mine and filled it up. That's over 4,000 feet of water in depth, 13,000 feet in length, through all the connected tunnels down below. You could call it a lake. The 30 degree slope of the tunnel is evident when you see the water swallow up the entire tunnel in a matter of feet. Even after just 5 minutes down below, it's hard to judge 30 degrees from 5 degrees (try driving through a road tunnel and guessing where it's up, down, or level - the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels in New York City are good for this). Those rocks aren't mine leavings, they're legitimate coal that you could scoop up and use to power machinery, but there's no more mining going on. The mine used to let visitors pickaxe a small chunk of coal, but had to stop when one of the walls got weakened and almost punched through to another shaft (with potentially bumpy results - and if you've been reading, you know what I mean by "bumpy"). Technically, you're not even allowed to pick up a loose chunk of coal, just to prevent people from "accidentally" knocking pieces loose.

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